The Lakers have had a rough go of it so far this season. They’re currently 11-11, sitting at seventh place in the Western Conference. Lately, fans have been discussing — and most of the time yearning for — a firing of head coach Frank Vogel. The Lakers’ faithful aren’t the only ones talking about this possibility; NBA insiders have reported that people in coaching circles around the NBA have already started to worry about Vogel’s job security (h/t Silver Screen & Roll).
As with all NBA coaches when their team is falling short of expectations, Vogel’s lineup rotations and in-game adjustments have come under fire. The concerns around his rotations have felt weak all season given injuries to key role players such as Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn, and Trevor Ariza (with the latter two still yet to make their season debuts), as well as a couple of weeks of missed games for both Austin Reaves and one guy named LeBron James. In regards to the adjustments, well, these concerns have some validity. A key time period of in-game adjustments comes in the form of the third quarter after both head coaches are able to deploy new strategies they might have after watching the first half. The Lakers have been one of the worst teams in the third quarter this season, having a -20.3 net rating in the frame up until the past five games they played (28th out of 30 NBA teams).
However, it seems like Frank Vogel is doing some things differently lately. These moves haven’t been isolated to the third quarter, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t at least slightly affected their play in that time as they have a 17.9 net rating in that quarter in the past five games.
Nearly 10 years ago, a little television show called Breaking Bad was in the middle of its run. At this time in 2010, the last two episodes of season three aired, titled “Half Measure” and “Full Measure” (spoilers may ensue here but I’ll keep them at a minimum). The former of the two episodes included a pretty long and chilling speech from character Mike Ehrmantraut (played beautifully in this as well as Better Call Saul by Jonathan Banks). The speech is to our anti-hero Walter White, in reference to a decision Walt made previously to try and get his partner Jesse arrested. Jesse had been causing issues for Walt and their meth-producing operation that Mike was also a part of.
Mike visits Walt upon hearing about his plans for this, telling him a long story about when he was a cop back in the day. I won’t go deep into the story as it’s pretty gruesome, but long story short Mike decides against a decision that would have ended a criminal’s life only to find out later in time that the same criminal had committed yet another heinous crime. Mike is using the story to illustrate what Walt must do with Jesse instead of just arresting him, a move that may cause even more problems for their drug operations down the line.
“The moral of the story is: I chose a half measure when I should have gone all the way. I’ll never make that mistake again. No more half measures, Walter.”
Walt, as he did many times in the show, goes on to do the exact opposite of what Mike wants, committing a string of half-measures that do help him skate on by before committing a full measure in the season finale. It was far from the full measure that Mike wanted in the form of killing Jesse, but either way, it helped save Walt yet again.
At this current time in the evolution of this Lakers team, Frank Vogel is currently making half measures while pundits and fans watching the team are clamoring for him to make the drastic full measure.
The main full measure adjustment being desired by fans surrounds the starting lineup position that has been under a microscope since training camp — the center spot. DeAndre Jordan has started there for most of this season and the results have been subpar. The team currently holds a -6.9 net rating (nice) with him on the court (third-worst on the team only above Kent Bazemore and Avery Bradley). Vogel has seemingly addressed the center problem with an adjustment, however, it won’t be exactly what fans want.
Instead, LeBron James has been getting some run at center lately. Well, Vogel may not see it this way as he calls these “centerless” lineups instead. Semantics aside, Vogel kept Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, and Jordan all off the floor for the lineups at the start of the 2nd and 4th quarters in Sunday’s win against the Pistons with LeBron serving as the biggest player in the purple-and-gold. Because of LeBron sharing time at the five alongside Davis and Jordan, this kept Howard out of the game entirely. Vogel said this may happen more times moving forward, but sometimes it’ll be Jordan on the bench getting some rest.
Frank Vogel said that they decided to use just one traditional center (DeAndre Jordan) tonight to get more of a look at the smaller lineups (with either AD or LeBron at the 5), but that some nights that center could be Dwight Howard, in which case Jordan would sit.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) November 29, 2021
This move falls short of taking Jordan out of the rotation entirely, something that could probably help the Lakers just from looking at his on-court statistics. It also wouldn’t be new territory for Jordan as he eventually fell far out of the rotation in his most recent stint with the Brooklyn Nets. But can Vogel really afford to eliminate Jordan from the rotation? LeBron played around 10 minutes at the five in Sunday’s game, and any more than that consistently across a season would probably cause him to get injured from banging with opposing team’s centers. He’s already dealing with an abdominal strain that is seemingly still affecting him. Sure, Howard could play even more, but he’s looked just as washed up at times as Jordan.
The true full measure may not even be available to Vogel right now, as it probably necessitates Nunn and — to a greater extent — Ariza (who is seeming close to making his debut). Carmelo Anthony has mostly taken the minutes at the four not taken by LeBron James or Anthony Davis, and although Anthony has individually won the Lakers some games with his 42.7 3P%, his physicality and defense leave a lot to be desired in a lineup with LeBron or Davis at the five. Ariza seems to be the “key” for being able to use these small and promising lineups more, something Vogel explained just yesterday.
Frank Vogel said that Trevor Ariza will be a "key to this team's identity" and will allow him to play AD at the five more, though he didn't offer a specific timetable for his return to the court
— Cooper Halpern (@CooperHalpern) November 29, 2021
Davis could then start full-time at center with Ariza by his side, with Jordan or Howard replacing him at the end of the first and/or third quarters or the beginning of second and/or fourth quarters.
The half measures vs. full measures conundrum in the Breaking Bad show is funny, as looking back it seems like Walt took half measure after half measure throughout the show to protect Jesse. It ultimately worked out for him for the most part, but boy, did it make for some stressful (albeit excellent) television. We might be in for a basketball season just as stressful, but it definitely hasn’t been exciting and it sure as hell hasn’t been excellent up to this point. These “centerless” lineups from Frank Vogel may be the first of many half measures we see this season, with a possible full measure on the horizon once Ariza makes his debut.